The acclaimed British artist Tracey Emin has perched almost 70 life-size bronze birds on lamp-posts, awnings and window sills along a busy pedestrian thoroughfare in Sydney’s business district.
She hopes the permanent public artwork, commissioned by the City of Sydney, will slow life down for just a moment for those who notice the small sculptures.
“The city is massive but the birds are small, tiny, delicate, fragile, like we are as human beings,” she said in a video promoting the work, which will be officially unveiled next Wednesday.
Emin says she has been drawing birds, which she considers “angels of this Earth” for 25 years.
The trail of birds will stretch down Grosvenor Street and Bridge Street, culminating at a large stone bird bath in Macquarie Place park, inscribed with the name of the artwork The Distance of Your Heart.
Emin was among 700 artists who pitched for the city’s public art initiative. Her work, which cost $912,000, was made from two tonnes of bronze and took four years to complete.
“I’ve done big shows, I’ve done this and I’ve done that; Venice [Biennale], I’ve represented Britain,” she told Fairfax Media. “All these things are not as big as this because this is not about me and not for some collector who bought it or some museum who thought it was good.”
Earlier this week, the internationally renowned Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei unveiled his huge artwork, Law of the Journey, on Cockatoo Island, as part this year’s Biennale of Sydney exhibition. The artwork is a 60-metre-long rubber boat crammed with refugees.
Even by Donald Trump’s standards, Tuesday was extraordinary. First came the tweet that he had fired his secretary of state Rex Tillerson. Then a state department spokesman issued a statement claiming Tillerson was “unaware of the reason” for his dismissal, and had heard about it on Twitter. A few hours later the spokesman had been fired too. Meanwhile the lawyer of porn actor Stephanie Clifford (stage name: Stormy Daniels), who allegedly had an affair with Trump, warned the country to “buckle up” as Clifford sought to extract herself from her non-disclosure agreement so she could “publish any materials, such as text messages, photos and/or videos relating to the president that she may have in her possession”. Back in Washington, the Trump team announced it would be hiring John McEntee, Trump’s former personal assistant, as a senior adviser for campaign operations. The day before, McEntee had been escorted from the White House because he is under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for serious financial crimes.
While all this was going on, voters in south-west Pennsylvania’s 18th district went to the polls in a byelection, in a district Republicans have held for the past 15 years. It was so safe that Democrats didn’t even bother contesting the last two elections. Trump trounced Hillary Clinton there by about 20 points. It should have been a shoo-in for the Republicans. By the end of the night Democrats were celebrating a wafer-thin victory, though this may yet be challenged.
Witnessing Trump’s presidency unravel so spectacularly provokes a perverse joy. The venality is so baroque, the vulgarity so ostentatious, the inconsistencies so stark, the incompetence so epic and the lies so brazen, it leaves you speechless. His vanity is without guile and the scandals that embroil him without end. Almost everything he says and does has been publicly contradicted, by himself, usually on Twitter. On Tuesday he said of Tillerson’s departure: “Rex and I have been talking about this a long time … We were not really thinking the same”.
On 1 December he tweeted: “The media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon – FAKE NEWS! He’s not leaving and while we disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again!” It’s amazing to think he ever imagined he could get away with it. And with each test at the ballot box it seems he can’t. Republicans have been crushed in elections around the country. Some defeats, like that of the alleged paedophile Roy Moore in Alabama, are unlikely to be repeated; others, like the gains across Virginia in November, indicate more sustained progress. There has been a relatively consistent swing of about 15 points to Democrats in state and congressional races that has seen them take over 40 seats from Republicans, including in states such as Florida and Wisconsin where Clinton lost in 2016. Midterm elections are almost never good for the party in the White House. On current trends, this November will be a disaster for Republicans.
And yet, even as voters reject him and he becomes increasingly isolated in his own fetid lair, the cloud that glowers over this moment remains far more imposing than any silver lining. There are two main reasons why progressives should refrain from revelry.
First of all, things are going to get worse before they get better. Tillerson, the former head of ExxonMobil, was a disastrous secretary of state. Ineffectual abroad, it soon became clear that he spoke with precious little authority. As he attempted to calm down tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Trump sided publicly with Saudi Arabia; when he tried to kick-start negotiations with North Korea, Trump tweeted that he was “wasting his time”. It seems the place where Tillerson had most impact was in his own department where, under his watch, morale has plummeted and there has been an exodus of talent and knowledge.
And yet it was, reportedly, Tillerson who helped keep the US in the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord. Extreme as the last year of US foreign policy has been, ostensibly Trump was being reined in. That restraint has gone. Tillerson’s replacement, CIA director Mike Pompeo, is an Islamophobic climate-change denier who opposes the deal with Iran and has made nods towards regime change in North Korea. “With Mike Pompeo, we have a similar thought process,” said Trump. That is not encouraging. Replacing Pompeo at the CIA is Gina Haspel, who oversaw a CIA torture site in Thailand where detainees were interrogated. The scandal used to be that there were advocates of torture in the West Wing. Now its practitioners are in office.
But the problem is not simply that things will get worse. It’s that it’s not at all obvious that, electorally at least, there’s a clear sense of what “better” would look like, beyond getting rid of Trump. Politically the country is clearly shifting leftwards. The nationwide walkouts of schoolchildren against gun violence on Wednesday, the women’s marches and teachers’ strikes, all suggest a swelling resistance to the Trump agenda. Pennsylvania is just the latest evidence that this has had an electoral impact.
But while the Democrats are happy to take the wins, they have not yet processed why they lost. They are beneficiaries of the frustration and anger. But there is little evidence that they are shifting with it, let alone cohering or leading it.
Conor Lamb’s victory in Pennsylvania was a progressive advance insofar as it was a setback for Trump. That’s great as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. He was introduced at one rally as a “God-fearing, union-supporting, gun-owning, job-protecting, pension-defending, social-security-believing, healthcare-greeting, sending-drug-dealers-to-jail Democrat”. That, arguably, is what you have to be to get elected in south-west Pennsylvania. But nationally Democrats need a more hopeful message with a broader appeal.
They haven’t got one. On Wednesday the Senate passed a Republican bill that would provide the most comprehensive rollback in banking regulation since the financial crisis, with significant Democrat support. One would have assumed, in a period of growing inequality and stalling social mobility, that opposing it would be obvious if you wanted to win back those disenchanted rust-belt voters in Michigan and Wisconsin who stayed at home or backed Trump. Senate Democrats are instead divided, apparently confused over whether they should advocate for their base or the banks.
The problem with Democrats looking on Donald Trump’s presidency as a slow-motion car crash is that it concedes they are spectators at a moment when they should be in the driving seat – and that, when we come to survey the wreckage, there will be many innocent victims.
Vanessa Trump, the wife of Donald Trump Jr, filed for divorce on Thursday, according to reports.
Vanessa Trump filed for an uncontested proceeding, “meaning she’s not expecting a legal battle over custody of the couple’s five children or their assets”, the New York Post reported.
On Wednesday the paper said the president’s eldest son and his wife of 13 years “were living separate lives” and that Trump Jr, 40, was “never there”.
In a joint statement, the couple said they had decided to go their separate ways., adding they “will always have tremendous respect for each other” and their families.
In January 2017, Trump Jr and his brother Eric took over the day-to-day management of the Trump Organization, the president’s business empire, after their father took office. Trump Jr has remained involved in politics.
Trump Jr’s political involvement has brought him under scrutiny from the special prosecutor Robert Mueller for his role in potential collusion between Russia and his father’s presidential campaign.
In 2016, Trump Jr received an email offering compromising information on Hillary Clinton from someone claiming to represent the Russian government.
“If it’s what you say, I love it,” Trump Jr replied.
Trump Jr and Vanessa Trump married in November 2005.
A wedding announcement from the time, posted in the New York Times, said the ceremony was held at Mar-a-Lago, Trump Sr’s membership club in Palm Beach, Florida. Donald Trump’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry – then a judge in the United States court of appeals for the third circuit – officiated the marriage.
The special counsel, Robert Mueller, has subpoenaed the Trump Organization to turn over documents, including some related to Russia, the New York Times reported on Thursday, in a sign that the investigation is inching closer to the president.
The subpoena was delivered in “recent weeks” and includes an order for the Trump Organization to turn over all documents related to Russia and other topics he is investigating, the Times reported, citing two people briefed on the matter.
It is the first known order directly related to Trump’s sprawling business empire.
Asked by the New York Times last year whether he would consider Mueller examining his and his family’s finances a “red line”, Trump said: “I would say yeah. I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don’t – I don’t – I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows?”
He added: “I don’t make money from Russia. Other than I held the Miss Universe pageant there eight, nine years.”
On Twitter, Trump has said he has had “nothing to do with Russia – no deals, no loans, no nothing”.
But on Wednesday Democratic lawmakers investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin alleged that the future president’s private company was “actively negotiating” a business deal in Moscow with a sanctioned Russian bank during the 2016 election campaign.
The statement by Democrats on the House intelligence committee, who have had access to internal Trump Organization documents and interviewed key witnesses, raises new questions about the Trump Organization’s financial ties to Russia and its possible willingness to deal with a bank that had been placed under US sanctions.
The Democrats did not indicate the source of their information.
One month before Trump laid down this “red line”, Don McGahn, the White House counsel, reportedly threatened to quit after Trump asked him to have Mueller fired because the president believed he had a number of conflicts of interest that disqualified him from overseeing the investigation.
Meanwhile a new poll from Pew Research Center found 61% of Americans were very or somewhat confident Mueller will conduct a fair investigation.
Opinions divided along party lines. Some 46% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents agreed, while for Democrats the figure was 75%.
Mueller was appointed in May 2017 to investigate whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to sway the 2016 presidential election.
He is also reportedly investigating whether Trump obstructed justice by firing former FBI director James Comey, who has said he refused to give the president his loyalty.
The White House referred all inquiries to the Trump Organization. A lawyer for the Trump Organization did not wish to comment on the record.
At her regular media briefing, press secretary Sarah Sanders declined to address reports of the subpoena directly.
“As we’ve maintained all along and as the president has said numerous times, there was no collusion between the campaign and Russia,” Sanders told reporters. “We’re going to continue to fully cooperate out of respect for the special counsel. We’re not going to comment: for any specific questions about the Trump Organization, I’d refer you there.”